Originally created 01/18/06

Water plan to put premium on river

Georgia's far-reaching plan to stabilize groundwater consumption in four Savannah-area counties will place more demands on the Savannah River, according to the director of Georgia's Environmental Protection Division.

"It's going to require us to look at all other demands and uses - both upstream and on both sides of the river," Carol Couch told members of Savannah River committees appointed by Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford.

The committees were formed last year to improve communication between the states and ward off the growing likelihood of conflict over shared resources such as the Savannah River.

The groups met Tuesday in North Augusta.

The topic that dominated a two-hour discussion involved Georgia's Coastal Water Withdrawal Permitting Strategy, which Dr. Couch said is designed to reduce the 24-county coastal region's growing consumption of groundwater from the upper Floridan aquifer, which provides groundwater to coastal Georgia, South Carolina and Florida.

Currently, she said, 75 entities - from cities and industries to golf courses - hold state permits to extract groundwater in Chatham, Bryan, Liberty and Effingham counties alone.

The Environmental Protection Division hopes eventually to cap total withdrawals in that area at 130 million gallons a day. To accomplish that, state authorities will encourage water users to turn to the Savannah River and explore ways to conserve and re-use water to avoid demand for more volume.

"Most of the communities in that four-county area have had all their eggs in one basket: the upper Floridan aquifer," Dr. Couch said.

Under a planned re-evaluation of all permits, each user will have to justify the need for their allotments and some permit limits could change.

Braye Boardman of Augusta, a member of Mr. Perdue's committee, said the conservation efforts needed in coastal counties will translate to the need for better management of the river and its water in the Augusta area and upstream, where the Army Corps of Engineers manages three large reservoirs.

One reason Georgia wants to reduce pressure on the coastal aquifer is to slow the advance of saltwater from the Atlantic.

The withdrawals create "cones of depression" that can encourage saltwater to break through the surface and further contaminate subterranean reserves.

Such problems already are plaguing Hilton Head Island, S.C., causing officials in that state to wonder whether Georgia's consumption is a partial cause. South Carolina officials also have expressed concerns that Georgia's plan merely proposes a cap on current groundwater use, not a mandatory reduction.

The U.S. Geologic Survey is in the final stages of two new studies that could be helpful in evaluating future aquifer management plans, Dr. Couch said.

Mike McShane, the chairman of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and a member of Mr. Sanford's committee, urged future meetings to enable both states to review and interpret the pending reports.

Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119, or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.

Saltwater Studies

Georgia is awaiting two crucial studies by the U.S. Geologic Survey that will be used to form new strategies to reduce saltwater intrusion into groundwater reserves in coastal counties. Those studies are due for completion in late February.


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